Wired In: Brandon Dohman

Wired In: Brandon Dohman

Each week, Paul Wood chats with a high tech difference-maker. This week, meet BRANDON DOHMAN, Innovation Lead and site director at Syngenta's new lab in the University of Illinois Research Park. He encourages workers there to think innovatively.

What does the Champaign office do for Syngenta?

With great support from executive leadership, we've been given the ability to work with new tech, processes and be an independent research facility. This gives us a distinct ability to think outside the box and not be burdened by existing processes or tech.

How did you become an entrepreneur?

I like pushing the boundaries and not settling for products just being "OK." After being tired with how other companies did computer repair, I decided to open my own computer repair business from my parent's basement. From there, I actively sought new challenges and new ways to push people to speak against the average.

Why did you choose this business?

Our lab motto is "Accelerating Technology to Feed the World." Very soon we're going to have 9 billion people on this planet. We've got to do everything in our power to sustain life, while not killing the planet we enjoy.

Do you have a UI connection?

Outside of working at the Research Park I do not. However, we have quite a few Syngenta team members who are. I love the school and what it's doing for Champaign-Urbana and the rest of the world. I truly enjoy getting out to meet new professors weekly and hearing about the great research they and our student population does. Nick Offerman is a personal hero; I hope to meet him on campus someday.

Who else is on your team?

Right now it's me and 10 highly skilled interns. We've got expertise in everything from Machine Learning, Natural Language Processing, Full Stack Development, User Experience, Industrial Design and Graphic Design. As the lab grows, we'll be actively recruiting for more full-time roles to support our research.

Can you give an example of a collaboration with NCSA?

The NCSA's specialized expertise in high-performance modeling, simulation and Big Data has helped deliver on some of our key business challenges. For example, collaborating with the NCSA has resulted in the development of an improved predictive algorithm to compute genetic allele data sets with greater scope and speed. This work improved compute time from one week to 10 minutes.

What's behind the idea to use supercomputing in your research?

A sizable portion of our business has to do with vast amounts of data and intense mathematical calculations. Without the use of supercomputing, it would drastically increase our research time and ability to make timely business decisions.

What's your best advice for someone who's starting up?

Don't be boring, and ask lots of questions. Surround yourself with diverse people who are more talented than yourself. Without that environment, you'll never learn and be pushed to be better. Talk to as many people you can about your assumptions. You don't need constant validation, but a new perspective is always good.

Have you ever make any mistakes you've been able to learn from?

Every day. They say the average 4-year old asks 144 questions per day. I hover in the ballpark of 300 per day. Without this mindset, I would never learn. I'm actively trying new ideas, asking questions and quickly identifying the correct path in which to push.

TECH TIDBITS ... from BRANDON DOHMAN

Twitter handle, or Facebook or LinkedIn, if you prefer: linkedin.com/in/brandondohman/

Favorite app: Plex and Product Hunt.

Book or Kindle? What are you reading right now? I like the feel of books. However, the simplicity of carrying thousands of books on one device is appealing. My current read is "Leaders Eat Last" by Simon Sinek.

Do you have an entrepreneur hero? Elon Musk. He's pushing boundaries that no one else is. He single-handedly forced large automakers to completely re-think electronic vehicles.

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